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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Does the Sun revolve around the Earth? A comparison between the general public and online survey respondents in basic scientific knowledge.

  • Author(s): Cooper, Emily A
  • Farid, Hany
  • et al.

We conducted an online survey using a set of factual science questions that are commonly administered to assess fact-based scientific literacy. We report that the online population performed substantially better on this standard assessment than the traditional survey population. For example, it has been widely reported that 1 in 4 Americans does not know that the Earth revolves around the Sun, whereas among the online population, this ratio is reduced to 1 in 25. While new online platforms provide researchers with unprecedented ease of access to a large sample population for studying trends in public knowledge and attitudes, generalizing from online population samples to the US population at large poses a considerable challenge. We discuss the potential reasons for this discrepancy and the implications for conducting research online.

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